In 1224, in his notable poem Battle of the Wines, Henry d’Andeli tells the story of a famous wine tasting organized by the French king Philip Augustus. In this tasting, samples from across Europe were tasted and judged by an English priest. The priest classified the wines as either ‘Celebrated’ in the case of those which pleased him or ‘Excommunicated’ for those that did not. With the rise of the industrial revolution and the growth of international trade, the wine industry has become a $354.7 billion global market. But wine quality cannot be ascertained ex-ante, for this reason, the industry faces an information asymmetry problem. The producer, distributor or retailer involved in the economic transaction often possess greater material knowledge than the general consumer. Where this is the case, systems emerge which attempt to address this information imbalance. Filmmakers spend millions creating trailers, in literature, there are renowned awards such as the Booker Prize, and in the wine industry there have been scores and competitions. From well-established, renowned international awards to small, emerging regional competitions, format and scale is broad and diverse. However, in a marketplace where applications like Vivino provide consumers with immediate community-generated reviews, whether competitions are effective tools in establishing objective, qualitative benchmarks to aid purchasing decisions or serve as revenue-generating marketing machines is not altogether clear. In this article, I explore the research on wine competitions and discuss what producers should consider before entering their wines into a competition.
Growing awareness of the impact of food on wellbeing is a good step forward in terms of public health. However, there is growing concern over whether it is problematic to consider all preservatives and additives in general as harmful. An unfortunate byproduct of growing public concern has been that unscrupulous charlatans are more able to sensationalise objectively harmless additives and capitalise upon unsuspecting consumers. Admittedly there has in the past been genuine scandals creating cause for concern, the 1985 diethylene glycol scandal an example of one. With that being said, robust regulatory systems, regular review of the science, and a large amount of data now required pre-approval, should give consumers confidence that they are buying wine free of harmful additives. Winemakers are well aware of the stringent regulations they are subject to and have a good track record of compliance. Modern consumers expect to purchase quality products (albeit this is a somewhat subjective measure) which are free of spoilage and have a long shelf-life. In order to achieve a consistent quality product in a commercially viable manner, winemakers have available to them a number of harmless additives. Whilst there may be over 60 additives available to winemakers, the reality is that only a handful are used in often small, measured quantities. In this article, I hope to demystify common additives in winemaking and provide a more nuanced exploration of what these ‘additives’ are, how, why, and in what quantities they are used, and to discuss their harmless nature.
The earliest recorded praise of Burgundy’s wines was in 591 by Gregory of Tours, who compared their quality to the Roman wine Falernian, one of the first wines to be exported to Britain while it was a Roman settlement. Monks and monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church have since had an important influence on the history of Burgundy wine. The Cistercians, themselves extensive vineyard owners, were the first to notice that different vineyard plots gave consistently different wines. They, therefore, laid the earliest foundation for the naming of Burgundy crus and the region’s terroir thinking. Since then, aided by advancements in commerce, Burgundy has become the wine of choice for discerning wine lovers the world over. Fuelled by supply and demand, cultish following, and to some extent the escapades of Rudi Kurniawan and John Kapon, prices have skyrocketed seemingly without an end in sight. I count myself firmly amongst those struck by the magic of great Burgundy. When they’re on form, it’s best wines transcend what I had previously considered possible from the humble grapevine. That being said, when I share images of recently enjoyed bottles, I’m often asked by readers to recommend accessibly-priced or ‘under the radar’ bottles for those seeking obtainable indulgence. In this article, I’ll point you toward 8 Burgundian wines, from the estates of some outstanding producers, priced under £30 a bottle.
Following the launch of Avaline, Cameron Diaz and her business partner Katherine Powers parody of an honest, transparent product, the wine industry has been rightfully quick to point out how and why ‘clean wine’ is problematic. Writer, Sophie Griffiths of Vignette Wine, points succinctly to its disingenuous claims, (Avaline itself by any objective standards is a conventional wine), lack of transparency and the unsettling image it projects of the wine industry as a whole. Optimistically surfing Diaz’s wave, laden with millennial buzzwords, is Good Clean Wine, the brainchild of Courtney Dunlop and Elle Feldman. Following an unimaginably embarrassing Forbes article, in which the pair took turns to shit on the wine industry, I launched a tirade on social media. From claiming ‘toxic gunk’ in wine causes hangovers to their suggestions that winemakers simply ‘throw a bunch of junk in the wine’ as it ferments’ I decided they needed to be challenged. In the name of transparency, I was of course immediately blocked, as were many others. Critical comments were deleted from their Instagram page and the initial Forbes article edited retrospectively. Perhaps evidence of the pairs reflection? Alas, this was not to be the case. In a further Forbes article, the two double-down on their misinformed, misleading and frankly troubling insinuations about the wine industry and consumer health. Seeing as though the team at Good Clean Wine just doesn’t seem to get it, in this article I will spell out exactly what’s wrong with their brand and how they market it.
Although only average in size (4124ha under vine) the Nahe boasts some of Germany’s most complex, profound, and idiosyncratic wines. Often overlooked, the primarily south and southwest facing vineyards, stretching from Bingerbrück to Soonwald, are drenched in sun, lying in a transition zone between a continental and maritime climate. With vines in many of the regions most favourable sites, claiming monopole status over some, one producer is particularly emblematic of the Nahe’s unsung wonders. The Dönnhoff family first came to the region over 200 years ago, steadily establishing a modest estate. Since 1966, the famed Helmut Dönnhoff has made the wine, with 4th generation Cornelius now overseeing the families 28ha of vines, 25 of which are classified Erste Lage. Elliot Awin and the team at ABS Wine Agencies, importers of Dönnhoff, invited me to join them for a virtual Zoom discovery of the estate. Lead by Cornelius and accompanied by 6 wines, including a glimpse into 2019. We walked through the estate’s history and talked more about the challenges of producing laser-sharp, spicy, and intense wines vintage after vintage.
Viticulture is a long-term endeavour, one which is intrinsically linked to the wellbeing of the planet. Much more than being an organisational buzzword, to Ruinart, sustainability is the realisation of their responsibility to preserve. Extending this responsibility beyond the vineyard, for the past 10 years, Ruinart has progressively implemented eco-conscious practises across the entire business, from project proposals to service to packaging. Having already redesigned their existing gift boxes, the second skin is the evolution of this aspect of their commitment. The result of 2 years of research & development, the entirely recyclable second skin saw 7 prototypes prior to completion, is 9 times lighter than previous gift boxes and achieves a 60% reduction in carbon footprint compared to the current solution. Beyond this, working with manufacturer James Cropper and packaging expert Pusterla 1880, the manufacturing process itself is both efficient and sustainable. The impact of climate change on viticulture simply cannot be understated, effectively tackling this is a much broader undertaking than working the land. With the help of Chef de Caves, Frédéric Panaïotis, I took a more detailed look at the second skin packaging.
Bordering the Swiss Alps, Piedmont is a picturesque and historically-rich region in the Northwest of Italy. Roughly 1 hour south of the capital city, Turin, in the province of Cuneo, you’ll find the rolling hills of the Langhe. Recognised by UNESCO’s World Heritage, in part for its outstanding living testimony to winegrowing and winemaking tradition, the Langhe features prominently in the writings of writer Beppe Fenoglio and novelist Cesare Pavese. The past 40 years have seen the regions most prominent DOCG’s, Barolo and Barbaresco, skyrocket to stratospheric acclaim. With land prices in Barolo reaching as much as €2.5m per hectare in the most prestigious crus, expansion is difficult even for established winemaking families. That being said, nestled between Cannubi and Vignane, in the cru of Preda, having acquired experience with some of the worlds greatest winemakers, Tom Myers is finding his feet, working the land, and intending to make great wine for decades to come. I spoke with Tom about his journey thus far, Cantina D’Arcy and the future.
Bordering the alps, Piedmont is a picturesque and historically rich region in the Northwest of Italy. At close to 10,000 square miles it is far from small and consisting of many towns and communes is a patchwork of culture and intrigue. Roughly 1 hour south of the regions capital city, Turin, in the provence of Cuneo, lies a hilly area known as the Langhe. Famous for wine, cheese and truffles the Langhe is recognised by UNESCO’s World Heritage, in part for its outstanding living testimony to winegrowing and winemaking tradition. I’ve visited the area several times, it’s fascinating with much to offer, I hope that this piece helps encourage, assist and guide your own exploration.
The customer always defines value. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. Whether it be a process, product or service, the voice of the customer must, at its core, be the driving force in defining the end-to-end value stream. Whilst restaurants may vary in their individual approach to the customer experience, common elements almost always remain, access to a wine list is one of them. Serving not only as a functional tool but also as a source of excitement, conversation and fun, the wine list plays a key role in the overall experience of many diners. Recently, a small number of restaurants have, for various reasons, decided they will no longer offer diners access to a physical wine list of any sort. Instead, diners will be required to discuss all wine choices with the front of house staff. Regardless of motive, this decision risks unnecessarily alienating customers and makes little practical sense. Whilst restaurants are of course entitled to make changes suited to their own ethos they ought not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This kind of absolutism redefines value from the perspective of the restauranteur, not the customer. Recently, I polled 187 wine lovers, capturing their feelings toward wine lists, judging whether they consider proposed replacements suitable, and ultimately asking whether they think removing a diner’s choice is a good idea or not.
As early as the fourth century Egyptians are believed to have used cork for fishing buoys; however, there is no consensus as to when the first cork was used to stopper a bottle of wine. Corks have been found in Roman shipwrecks dating from the fifth century BC, though it does not appear to have been the usual method of closure. After the fall of the Roman empire, global trade vastly decreased, between 500 and 1500 cork farmers from the Iberian Peninsula struggled to their products and cork gradually disappeared. In the 17th century cork reemerged and for almost the last four centuries virtually every bottle of wine has been sealed using a cork. However, since the 1970s alternative solutions began to emerge and the cork monopoly looked to be in question. The cause of the onslaught, amongst other things, was a chemical compound known as TCA, otherwise known as cork taint. Despite the growing presence of alternative closures, millions of winemakers drinkers around the world refuse to budge. In this article, I will explore the history of cork, it’s production, faults and the future.
Alessandro Masnaghetti was born in 1962 in Milano and currently lives in Faenza, a small town near Bologna. In the late 1980s, Masnaghetti’s passion for wine evolved and became more important than his love for food. In 1994, whilst working for famed Italian wine critic Luigi Veronello, he created his first map, a map of the communes of Barbaresco. Despite printing roughly 3-4000 copies, only 20-30 sold, so mapmaking was put to bed until 2006. Even upon release of his second effort, only a small portion of producers and wine lovers thought the project to be of great importance. Fast forward 14 years and any self-respecting wine lover, or admirer of maps, counts Masnaghetti’s books, predominately his MGA volumes, amongst their must-have resources. Wine regions can be mystifying and Italian regions tend to be the most confusing of all. Masnaghetti’s latest project, Barolo MGA 360, brings all of his work to life in an accessible, easily-digestible digital format. I spoke briefly with Alessandro about this exciting new project.